T-Mobile is taking advantage of the 2.5 GHz spectrum it acquired with the Sprint merger, deploying it at rapid-fire pace as its two biggest rivals prepare to catch up with 3.7 GHz C-band spectrum that starts to become available late this year.
Just today, T-Mobile issued a press release gloating about how Opensignal’s latest report shows T-Mobile customers get a 5G signal more often than anyone else in the world. The operator currently covers 165 million people with its “Ultra Capacity” 5G, which includes mid-band, with plans to cover 200 million people with it by the end of this year.
Understandably, T-Mobile wants to shore up as much remaining 2.5 GHz spectrum as it possibly can, and it’s urging the FCC to set a date for the 2.5 GHz auction, known in FCC parlance as Auction 108. It’s an event set to begin after Auction 110, which is the 3.45-3.55 GHz auction that starts October 5.
Last week, T-Mobile told (PDF) the commission that in order to realize the full promise of the 2.5 GHz band, particularly in suburban and rural areas, the FCC needs to set a date for the 2.5 GHz auction and finalize auction procedures. It’s lobbying for a simultaneous multiple round (SMR) auction format.
It also accuses AT&T of trying to wheedle confidential information out of the process: namely, information about T-Mobile 2.5 GHz leases connected to using that spectrum.
T-Mobile argues that it’s under no obligation to disclose the terms of lease arrangements between itself and incumbent licensees and accused AT&T of trying to get ahold of competitively sensitive information that it doesn’t need to compete in an auction. “There is simply no reason or support for requiring T-Mobile to disclose leasing information,” it told the commission.
Separately, AT&T and Verizon both have urged the commission to take its own sweet time in getting around to the auction of remaining 2.5 GHz spectrum. AT&T contends (PDF) the FCC shouldn’t conduct an auction of the 2.5 GHz band using an SMR format because it has unique characteristics. In an SMR type of set-up, T-Mobile would be able, through the multiple round process, to discover which licenses have little or no competition and win them at prices below its valuation, according to AT&T’s reasoning, which concludes that T-Mobile would be given an unfair advantage. Instead, AT&T wants the FCC to use a single-round, pay-as-bid auction procedure.
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Verizon, for its part, told the commission a couple months ago (PDF) that prospective bidders need additional information to adequately prepare for Auction 108. Due to the uncertainty about the nature of the spectrum being offered, bidders would find it “extraordinarily challenging to properly ascribe value” to most of the more than 8,300 licenses to be offered, according to Verizon.
Verizon also noted that more than 20 parties have filed comments expressing concern about the accuracy of the commission’s auction inventory. “… given the long road to rationalize and reform the 2.5 GHz band so that it can be put to more productive use for all Americans, the Commission should take the time to get the auction right,” the operator said. “Holding an auction that does not have price discovery for ill-prepared bidders would ultimately be a disservice to the band.”
It’s not clear how valuable the 2.5 GHz spectrum would be for AT&T or Verizon, although it’s a safe bet they’re going to make it as hard as possible for T-Mobile to add it to its arsenal. AT&T also has brought up the spectrum screen question, which comes up whenever an operator appears to be getting a sizable spectrum advantage over another.
“T-Mobile holds a vast percentage of such spectrum because, over the years, its corporate predecessors Sprint and Clearwire quietly accumulated enormous EBS/BRS assets in the 2.5 GHz band. They did so outside of any auction context and downplayed that band’s utility to keep it out of the spectrum screen,” AT&T told the commission in a September 1 petition (PDF).
Specifically, AT&T wants the FCC to adopt a mid-band screen for all future spectrum acquisitions between 2.5 GHz and 6 GHz, although spectrum obtained through the 3.45-3.55 GHz auction isn’t included because rules already were finalized. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Dish have all applied to participate in the 3.45 GHz auction.